When it comes to raising children, having good intentions can backfire. Sometimes a parent can be so protective of their child, so concerned about their health and safety that it can turn into a form of child abuse and actually cause harm. This is the central idea behind “Hungry Hearts,” written and directed by Saverio Costanzo. It’s a tense little thriller that keeps you on your toes but it’s also rather thin and suffers from some major narrative and character issues.
Alba Rohrw Herein lies an inconsistency with Mina’s character: on the one hand she’s so afraid of germs—making people immediately wash their hands when they come into the apartment-- but when her infant son has a fever her solution is to let it run its course? Wouldn’t it make sense to expose her baby to germs from the outside world to further strengthen his immune system?
Anyway, her husband Jude (Adam Driver) begins to get concerned and when he notices that his son isn’t growing he decides to do something about it. To Costanzo’s credit, the movie never goes quite where you think it will. It begins innocent enough like an offbeat Sundance rom-com, the two even have a quirky meet-cute in the bathroom of a Chinese restaurant. However, after a while things become anything but quirky and cute as the movie grows increasingly unsettling. It even ventures into mild horror movie territory, complete with creepy music box music and the occasional Bernard Herrman-esque instrumental sting.
Watching “Hungry Hearts” you can tell Costanzo was shooting on a micro budget. The film stock is low quality and most of the action is contained within Jude and Mina’s small apartment with a few street shots and brief sequences in a doctor’s office. In the apartment, you get the impression that shooting in such a confined space posed issues for Costanzo of where to place the camera and how to frame the shots. As a result we get a lot of close ups and crammed medium shots. Yet, these space constraints actually work in the picture’s favor; placing a majority of the action in such a tight space evokes a feeling of claustrophobia, heightening the already tense situation. We’re trapped in there with the crazy vegan mom.
Rohrwacher spends most of the movie looking sullen and fragile. Based on Mina’s own anorexic figure it’s not difficult to see why her baby is so malnourished, she can barely take her of herself. You get hungry just looking at her. And you’ll definitely find yourself frustrated at her actions. I caught myself yelling at the TV more than once. Yet Costanzo doesn’t make her into a complete monster. She’s more pathetic than evil and we do get tender moments between her and her son in between the crazy moments. At the same time, I feel like her character doesn’t quite cut deep enough. We don’t get a sense of who Mina is before she meets Jude and has the baby, making her insanity and aversion to Western medicine feel a little too sudden and out of left field. I’m not saying there needed to be extensive flashbacks to her childhood but it would have been better if Costanzo made her descent into madness more gradual.
“Hungry Hearts” also marks a dramatic turn for Driver, who’s known primarily for comedies. As the concerned sane parent Jude, Driver certainly shows promise but he’s not there yet. In his comedic roles he exudes such natural charm, making him the highlight of a number of recent films but his performance here often feels forced and awkward rather than genuine. There are a few instances where he loses his temper that come off over-the-top and not in keeping with the picture’s tone. He’s not terrible by any means--and I’m very curious to see how he fares n his villain role in the new “Star Wars” later this year—but he can definitely improve.
I wish Costanzo’s script cut deeper and I wish the movie reached a more satisfying conclusion. While the climax is shocking and unexpected, the resolution is handled too neatly and quickly, the final scene ultimately feeling underwhelming. I wanted more. At the same time, I was fully engaged while watching the film, never growing bored. Costanzo does a great job of maintaining suspense, making you feel anxious throughout, anxious over how far Mina will take her crazed mission to keep her son safe.